Royce’s Nama Chocolate from Japan

Nama Chocolate – “Maccha”

Royce' Nama Chocolate

Green tea chocolate from Japan – Royce’ Nama Chocolate

I came across these chocolates in a gift shop at Tokyo’s Nartia airport and given my love of both matcha and chocolate, I had to grab a box for myself.  One of the most delicious deserts I’ve ever eaten was daifuku (a “cake” of glutenous rice surrounding sweet bean paste) dusted with matcha (green tea powder intended for tea ceremony)[2].  The sweetness of the daifuku contrasted with the gentle fragrant bitterness of the matcha was incredible. It may have helped a bit that I was eating the stuff among the maple trees in the shadow of kinkaku-ji, AKA the golden pavilion, of Kyoto.  Still I wonder, could the same sweet-bitter balance work for these chocolate treats even if chocolate is already a combination of bitter and sugar?

Tasting and Review of Royce’ Nama Chocolate from Japan

Nama chocolate Maacha

Several layers of packaging protect the chocolate and a miniature fork is included

The taste was definitely milky and dominated more by matcha than chocolate, but it brought me to a different place than the daifuku of Kyoto.  The rich milky sweetness and bitter tea brought me to Tokyo and the ubiquitous Tully’s Coffee.  Yes, Tully’s makes consistently great coffee drinks, but I sometimes get their hot or cold Matcha Latte – some green tea powder whipped up with a bunch of milk and more than enough sugar to get me through a few meetings at the office.  It’s a bit decadent, but I like to treat myself when I travel far from home – throwing the rules out the window since I’m usually enduring some level of physical discomfort pretty much 24-7.

It turns out that this is white chocolate flavored with matcha - something I learned only after finding a translation of the ingredients

Soft tablets of Nama Chocolate Maccha cut in two to expose a creamy interior loaded with matcha

Nama chocolate reminded me of those milky bitter-sweet flavors of Tully’s Matcha Latte and what I like about Tokyo, and there’s a lot to like.  This is a fun and unique confection that’s set up nicely for sharing with pre-cut squares.  I had tasted the chocolate before I found an English translation of the ingredients, but was not surprised to find that this is white chocolate.  This explains the lack of any distinct cocoa flavor – white chocolate is simply cocoa butter and sugar.  Royce’s approach makes perfect sense because the matcha tea brings in the bitter flavor to fill the void left by removing the cocoa solids from the chocolate.

Ingredients: Fresh cream, cocoa butter, sugar, skim milk powder, whole milk powder, lactose, powdered green tea, cherry brandy, soy lecithin, artificial flavor.

I’m not happy to find artificial flavor on the ingredients list, but this chocolate is more about having fun than eating health food.  Still, I hope they can find away to remove artificial flavor from the recipe  even if it adds cost.

Last Bite – Nama Chocolate “Maccha”

I paid about 800 Yen in the airport, but for another 100, they wrap it up in a little cold pack so that it can survive the 14 hour ride back to the US in good condition.   Royce’ makes chocolate on Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido, using local cream from the region.   Royce’ has three retail shops in New York City, so check it out if you’re looking for something unique, on the sweet side, but with balance and attention to detail that you’d expect from a Japanese product.

Notes:

[1] I paid for this chocolate myself

[2] The most common roman-alphabet spelling for ceremonial green tea powder is “matcha.”  I assume Royce’ spells it as “maccha” as a stylized product name and indirect reference to matcha.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups vs. Theo Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Theo Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups vs. Reese's

Can Theo’s new dark chocolate peanut butter cups (top) rival the sentimental favorite of millions?

Each year when my kids come home with their Halloween bags full of goodies, I coerce them into letting me sample two things:  Almond Joy bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups.   Yes, even as a chocolate connoisseur, I occasionally eat common everyday candy.  It’s becoming less and less every year, but there’s something compelling me, perhaps some nostalgia, to reach into the bag with a bit of reluctance and pull out a big hunk of sugar like a smoker who’s quit but occasionally indulges in just one cigarette.

But not all candy has to be junk, does it?  When I learned that the fair trade organic chocolate maker from Seattle, Theo Chocolate, just put out a new peanut butter cup, I had to give it a fair review vs. the old standby:  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by Hershey’s.  Theo actually makes two types – a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate.  I went for the healthier and I hope tastier dark chocolate option.

Reese's and Theo peanut butter cups

The familiar round Reese’s cups (left) use milk chocolate while the heart-shaped Theo cup use dark chocolate.

Where to buy:  Reese’s – just about anywhere. I bought a two-pack at a local old-school convenience store for $1.30 only to find them completely melted.  To give Hershey’s a fair shake, I had to start with something in good condition, so I found another pack at the big-box hardware store for $1.20 bringing my total effective cost to $2.50. Ingredients: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk solids, non-fat milk, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR emulsifier), peanuts, sugar, dextrose, salt, TBHQ (preservative).

Where to buy: Theo – available online at NewLeaf Chocolates for $2.49.  Ingredients:  Cocoa Beans, Cane Sugar, Peanut Butter (Roasted Peanuts), Cocoa Butter, Powdered Sugar (Cane Sugar, Cornstarch), Peanut Flour, Salt, Rosemary Extract (Vegetable Oil, Rosemary Extract), Ground Vanilla Bean.

Aroma:  Reese’s – all peanut butter. I tried several times to find some scent of chocolate and the closest I could come to is milk.  If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  First smell a real dark chocolate bar and then the peanut butter cups.

Aroma:  Theo – first chocolate and then something nutty.

Taste:  Reese’s – It’s a big sugar rush.  The taste is dominated by sugar and peanuts up front.  Real chocolate flavor was hard to find.  All my life could I have been enjoying only the perception of chocolate?

Taste:  Theo – once you bite into it, it’s all peanuts just like Reese’s, but much less sweet.  A moment later, the real chocolate flavor appears with a very short-lived hint of fruit.  It was an unexpectedly less intense experience than Reese’s mainly because with Reese’s the sugar is overwhelming.  With Theo, you enjoy the chocolate flavor more and can feel and taste it separately in your mouth.  The finish eventually goes back to all nuts.

Texture:  Reese’s – A grittiness perhaps from the nuts turns smooth after a while.

Texture:  Theo – There’s a good snap at the start.  You will want to let it melt on your tongue a bit before chewing to let the chocolate catch up to the peanut butter flavors.

Reese's and Theo's peanut butter cups cut open

The inside of the cups look similar, but the Reese’s (left) seems infinitely sweeter than Theo.

TBHQ + PGPR + YOU = ?

I know some of you are wondering about those suspiciously long abbreviations in the Reese’s ingredients list. Here’s what they mean.

TBHQ is tertiary butylhydroquinone, an antioxidant that is derived from petroleum[2].  It’s often used as a preservative on packaging and in some foods with the full blessing of the FDA as long as it’s below a certain concentration.  This is not the type of antioxidant you get from blueberries and green tea.  This is an industrial chemical used to slow the oxidation of fats and other stuff so they don’t taste rancid.

PGPR is polyglycerol polyricinoleate, an emulsifier used to reduce the viscosity of chocolate so that they can pump it around a big factory in pipes and quickly fill all corners the little paper cups that hold the chocolate[3]. It also makes it easier for the chocolate to melt into a formless heap if it sits on a sunny store shelf.

Look, I don’t think we should be afraid of every chemical that has a long name – there’s plenty of complex chemicals naturally produced by your own body after all.  But, I don’t see any need for PGPR or TBHQ in my chocolate.  To produce a peanut butter cup that sells for not much more than a dollar, I suppose you have to throw in a couple of chemicals.  That’s what you get for $1.30.

If you try to research the safety of these chemicals on the web, you’re bound to run into some pseudo science, so be careful.  If you want some better information, I’d start with the Wikipedia links at the bottom of this page. Or you might be the type to enjoy a good cigarette along with your peanut butter cups and not worry about the consequences.  If so, I won’t judge you… really [4].

Last Bite

Well, it looks like I’ve outgrown Reese’s peanut butter cups after all – gone along with a long list of bad habits that I look back upon with a certain degree of fondness including Frosted Mini Wheats, imitation bacon bits, and Coors Lite.  This one’s easy to shed though thanks to Theo. They’ve given me a genuine chocolate treat at an accessible price.  I know some of you are still not convinced.  In your mind, Reese’s are what peanut butter cups are supposed to taste like.  It’s always been that way and always will be.  OK, but just imagine if in your childhood there was only Theo!

Notes:

[1] I was given these for free when I bought a bunch of other stuff from Theo.  They had no idea what I might do with them.

[2] Read more about TBHQ on Wikipedia.

[3] Read more about PGPR on Wikipedia

[4] Didn’t we learn anything from Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier?”